Martin is one of the ministers in The Village Church in Christchurch. He is also the editor of Candour.
I’m planning some study leave next year and have been wondering about why any reference to the parables of Jesus seem to be absent in the New Testament witness, other than in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. I believe that the parables are a cornerstone of Jesus’ teachings. Not simply a methodology, but also, in their content, a disruptive discourse. So why the absence? Are the parables implicit? Or, did they prove too tricky?
I wonder about whether the way the church formed early in its life might have taken a different course if there had been a more direct attempt to engage with the parables of Jesus. What worries me about the way institutions form is that they seem to become colonised by the dominant culture rather quickly. Is it permissible to question whether Paul’s methodology of taking the gospel to the Gentile world lost something in the application of the teachings of Jesus to that world? In particular, did the subversiveness that is so evident in the parables become lost in that witness? Maybe that is a wrong track, we know, after all, that the parables were passed about – they were, after all, still being told when the evangelists wrote their gospels. But wouldn’t you think that the prodigal son story could have been used as an example of God’s radical grace? Couldn’t you imagine a parable being offered as an enlightening story of how far God will stretch out a hand of love even to divided Corinthians?
So quickly, it seems, the radical nature of the incarnation becomes a raising of the post-resurrection kingly Christ, and once again, a new priestly class is required to be the intermediaries. Um… what happens to the sheer earth-shattering truth that God enters our existence and meets us there? What becomes of the priesthood of all believers?
So quickly, it seems, the talk of the kingdom of God/kingdom of heaven (another cornerstone of Jesus’ teachings) is left out of the early church witness. Just compare the number of times the phrase is used in the gospels compared to the rest of the New Testament.
I’m wondering if the way to do and be church has suffered through these absences.
I’m wondering if there is something to be recovered.
For instance, in the parable of the weeds among the wheat, the focus of almost all of the interpretations I have read seems to be on judgement. The last phrase of the parable talks of the harvest and the bundling and binding and burning of the weeds. If anything, the farmer in the story is pinging any haste to judgement and urging a spacious and gracious long view and waiting to see what happens at the end. Judge not, says Jesus. Take the log out of your eye. Forgive seventy times seven times. I wonder in what ways the perception of the church in our society would change quite radically if we were more like the farmer and as gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love as God clearly is (Psalm 145:8).
And the parable of the ‘Good Samaritan.’ Who is the teacher of God’s grace and mercy in the parable? The Levite? The priest? No, it is the hated Samaritan. The teacher is the enemy! The church has so often been so hasty to define who is in and who is out – who is wheat and who is weed. Churched and unchurched. Saved and lost. That’s how the church goes about separating wheat from weeds. But Jesus points to a different posture altogether. Those who we consider outcast and tainted become the bearers and teachers of God’s love.
I might, of course, be on the wrong track (again). And while I don’t care to be lectured, I would gladly receive some constructive feedback or thoughtful reflections of your own in this sort of zone, then I welcome your response as I prepare for some time away. You can respond with a comment here on Candour or email me martin(at)villagechurch.nz